LONDON - Iran's vital seaborne trade is buckling under the weight of Western sanctions, deepening hardship for a population deprived of basic imports and heaping intense pressure on Tehran over its nuclear program.

Many of Iran's imports, including food and consumer goods, arrive on container, bulker and other ships, but the number of vessels calling at its ports has dived by more than half this year as the United States and European Union tighten the screws.

Analysts doubt the Iranian economy is near collapse, even though its rial currency has plunged in the last few weeks, but they say some shortages and rising prices of imported goods could provoke public unrest directed at Tehran's leadership.

A growing number of Western companies, especially those in shipping and related businesses, are pulling out of trade with Iran due to the complexities of deals and tougher banking restrictions as the sanctions take hold - and out of fear of losing business elsewhere.

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